Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Constructive activism: what can I do?

ICSA Annual International Conference: Manipulation and Victimization Montréal, Canada; July 5-7, 2012

Colon, Michele  Newton, Tyler; Grosswald, Paul

Constructive activism: what can I do?
Families affected by controversial groups often feel helpless and frustrated concerning the plight of their loved ones.  Constructive activism is a productive way to channel these feelings, to increase the amount of information publicly available about a group, and ultimately to prevent others from becoming victims.  Controversial groups go to great lengths to eliminate any negative information about them (Singer, 2003), which creates an even greater need for public information.  This workshop will cover methods that families can use to inform the public about controversial groups in their area, what type of information should be made available, and the potential legal pitfalls they can face while speaking out.  Constructive activismreempowers the family, enabling them to make a positive difference in their lives and in the lives of others. 

This workshop will cover the following topics:

  1. Topics covered by Ms. Colon (the Why):
  • The importance of making information that is critical of the group available to the general public.  Cults do not disclose the group’s true requirements, expectations, and agenda at the time of recruitment (source).  Making this information available to others will allow people to make an informed decision about whether or not they will become a member of the group.  This information will also help people leave who are questioning their membership in a controversial group.

  1. (the What):
  • The importance of networking.
  • How different people bring different resources to the table.
  • The importance of numbers, and how a support group can also serve as a resource pool.
  • The importance of providing historical information about the group.  Pointing out how the group’s doctrine or practices have changed over time demonstrates that the group is not subject to the strict rules that the members are expected to adhere to.  Documentation of failed apocalyptic predictions and contradictory statements found in the group’s own literature are the best tools.  We will cover challenges that may be faced in obtaining literature, and how these can be overcome.
  • The importance of former member testimony.  A collection of personal accounts from former members will provide the most accurate description of what the group is really like.  While reading the former members’ personal accounts, current members of the group will likely be able to identify with the struggles of group membership, thoughts of leaving, or beingdisfellowshiped by the group.  We will discuss anonymity and challenges in finding former members and family members willing to post their stories online.
  • The importance of showing how behavior within the group fits the definition of a cult.  We will cover drawing comparisons to various thought-reform models described by Lifton, Singer, Hassan, and the like, and common cult replies and how to handle them.
  • The importance of researching publicly available records.  Finances can often be the exit ramp necessary for a questioning cult victim.

  1. Topics covered by Mr. Newton (the How):

  • Cover the basics of setting up a Web site or blog to publish information about a group.  Can even a small site be effective?  What is the best way to get started?  How do you expand if need be later?  How to back up your site and why.  How to contact persons of interest in foreign countries if the group is based overseas.  How do services such as Skype and Google Translate help make this possible by bridging language and distance barriers? Show examples.  Briefly explain online privacy.  Briefly cover what a “WHOIS” search is and what it discloses.  Discuss what to consider when selecting a hosting company.  What is an IP address and how can it be used?  How can these controversial groups obtain and use this information to their advantage?  Discuss how to block your IP address.  The importance of aliases for former members and family members of current members when posting on public forums. Briefly cover Web site optimization (Google Analytics, stat counter, etc.).  What does this information tell you?  How does it guide you to proceed in respect to what information is popular and most relevant to your readers?
  • Briefly cover how to have tracts or pamphlets cheaply and professionally made by online retailers.  Offer key points on maintaining a scholarly approach. The importance of peer review of online content when possible.  
  • The importance of professionalism in journalism.
  • Going door-to-door.  Often, people are unaware that there is a controversial group operating in their neighborhood.  Empowering the neighbors with knowledge of what is happening in their town increases pressure on the group. Cover strategies for talking with neighbors and getting others involved.

  1. Topics covered by Mr. Grosswald (the Legal):

  • Legal implications of activism.
  • What is libel and defamation?
  • What lengths do cults go to in order to silence their critics?  How can you protect yourself?  Cite examples.
  • Should you be concerned about being sued for posting information online?
  • How to find an attorney if need be.  Typical costs, and how to avoid legal troubles.

No comments: